Skateboarders, city council face off in Belfast

Posted June 19, 2013, at 3:15 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Earlier this spring, the city of Belfast repaved downtown streets, turning ruts and potholes into smooth swatches of buttery blacktop.

The boon to motorists has attracted a group that many local officials would rather not see riding on them: Skateboarders.

At the Belfast City Council meeting Tuesday night, City Manager Joe Slocum told the council he has heard a lot of complaints since the new pavement was laid down.

“You can’t expect kids not to skateboard downtown with these perfectly paved roads,” Hunter Finden, 17, of Belfast told councilors during the public comments portion of the meeting.

That’s just what they expect, however. A previous council wrote it into the 1996 city ordinance on noise and public conduct. Skateboarding and rollerblading is prohibited in downtown Belfast, except in the designated skate park on Washington Street. Those who ride may face a fine between $200 and $350, which is seldom imposed by police. Finden said he received a $231 ticket last summer for skateboarding, which he believes is too much money for an activity that harms no one.

Councilors discussed the prohibition on skateboarding, and while no action was taken, they expressed strong convictions about riders conducting themselves recklessly on streets that are busy with vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles.

“I don’t want to stop their fun,” Mayor Walter Ash said. “But I don’t want to run over one of them and have to live the rest of my life with that.”

Slocum said that skateboarders stop by “controlled crashing.” But Finden, from his seat in the audience, said that wasn’t true.

“I’m an older person. I don’t know they’re safe,” Slocum said. “I’m scared to death by it. I’m afraid I’ll see them get killed.”

Councilor Mike Hurley suggested that the city could amend the ordinance to fine reckless behavior rather than all skateboarding. He said that in the last couple of years, from his office window overlooking High and Main streets, he has seen cars do dangerous things such as jump curbs and drive into downtown shopfronts.

“Maybe we should talk about banning cars downtown,” he said facetiously. “What’s happened with this [anti-skateboarding ordinance] is that it’s so harsh, the police don’t want to enforce it.”

Hurley told Finden and other skateboarders in the audience — who had waited two and a half hours to hear the discussion — that they need to spread the word to riders to “tone it down.”

Finden told the councilors that people are more afraid of skateboards than bicycles simply because they’re “louder and newer.”

“They don’t have brakes!” Slocum responded.

Hurley and Police Chief Mike McFadden will meet to come up with a workable solution to the problem, he said.

Finden, 25-year-old Evan Pinette and 15-year-old Matt Buch, all of Belfast, left council chambers after the discussion to collect their skateboards and go home.

“I think most guys are in control,” said Pinette, who uses his board for transportation. “It’s no one’s intention to freak anybody out.”

In other business, there was a moment of silence for cyclist David LeClair of Watertown, Mass., who was killed Friday in western Maine at the outset of the Trek Across Maine, which finishes in Belfast.

The council also voted to prohibit dogs from city cemeteries, even when they are leashed, and agreed to convert all-day parking spaces along upper Main Street to two-hour parking.

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